By Famira Damaris
Disclaimer: Nope. Don't own Spirited Away or the characters.
Author's Notes: I don't know why I'm writing this, other than the fact that Spirited Away is a very inspiring movie. I'm sure it's been done, but I'm trying a pre-movie setting. *shrugs* Completely random, so…ehhh…might not be good like some of the other fics here. I'll do my best tho. Hopefully it won't be too crappy ^^; Anyway, Haku based. Just some insight on his past. Begins with his appearance at the bathhouse, after he had the meeting with Yubaba. Not exactly action-packed, but whatever.
Er…title doesn't mean much. Just was listening to a DDR song. xX;
Italics for thoughts, emphasis
A sprawling complex, the main building of the old bathhouse was a giant maze. Navigating its halls was a nightmare, trying to find exits even worse, and Haku doubted he would ever get to know his way around the blasted place. It seemed like such a waste of time. Instead of trying to memorize the layout of the bathhouse, he should be out on some mission. Anything but this. But that monstrous witch had indicated that he wouldn't be permitted to start his job if he wasn't even capable of moving about the premises of the building without running into a closet. It made sense. In fact, it made too much sense – like just about everything Yubaba said. She had made it seem like this arrangement was going to be long-term.
Haku had different plans. He would learn all he could from the elderly spirit, stay until there was simply nothing more to teach him and that would be that. He would (could) leave whenever he wanted. He was a slave to no one. Yubaba, he told himself as he waited for the rickety lift to reach the floor, had no true power over where he went. The disturbing change of names really wasn't that important – even if the original was starting to grow fuzzy. At least, that was what he had convinced himself during the trek from her offices at the top of the bathhouse down here.
Now where was he? Slanted green eyes narrowing, the young boy paused and glanced about. His lips thinned into a line. Yubaba had insisted that he was to "tour" the entire bathhouse, but he was almost sure this was some sort of trick. Wouldn't she just die laughing if he came out, sputtering and dusty, after a day or so? Stepping onto the waiting lift, Haku examined the worn bronze handle and, hesitating, pulled it. With a dry creak, the old platform began to rise, the gears grinding noisily.
That covered the lowermost floor. Haku mentally filed that information away: the lowermost floor consisted only of old supplies, sealed containers of aging wine and who else knew what, forgotten cartons and crawl holes. Probably rats too. This most likely had been the basement or some sort of cellar.
Haku sighed, closing his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest. The freshly-pressed white material of his clothing was slightly rigid to his touch and the brunette suppressed a shudder. A uniform. Like he belonged to some sort of prison. He already was beginning to hate the bathhouse (starting with that ridiculously garish office at the top) and he had only been here for two days: the thought of spending an unknown amount of time here wasn't at all pleasant.
But this is what I have to do. He had to find a way to return home – wherever that was. This is the only choice I have.
That still didn't make it any easier to swallow. His pale face set in an unreadable expression, Haku rode the rickety lift as far as it would go, listening absently to the creaks and throaty groans the old contraption made as it rose. No, there was no other way, not until he knew more about where he was. And, at the moment, he only knew this was an alien place to him. There was no comforting murmur of a familiar river, no roaring laughter of its waters. The peaceful whispers he had grown used to were gone, even the soft words he had always heard Within. Only people now, always rushing and never stopping, chasing after the pieces of gold they found so valuable, yet never quite satisfied when they finally got their hands on some.
In his opinion, they were a sorry substitute.
The lift came to a stop and Haku stepped out slowly – he had arrived on the main floor, near the entrance to the massive kitchens in the back. The strong smell of cooking food surrounded him, a powerful aroma of bread and roasting meats. Rice too, but he had never been fond of that stuff. Striding down the wooden halls, he took a right, bare feet padding softly on the paneling of the floor. Some of the male workers came into sight, their large, frog-like heads turning as they caught his gaze. He returned it blankly, watching as their eyes flicked onto his uniform. They scurried out of sight, their conversation suddenly muted.
He was going to get a lot of that as he went into the more crowded areas. The same curious, barely hostile stares. Haku kept his eyes straight forward as he strolled down the space between the individual baths. He was wearing the exact same thing everyone else was wearing. It was baffling, the reaction. The only thing different were the colors.
It was probably nothing. Haku continued on his way, his face impassive as he tried to remember every detail of the place.
Haku said nothing. Across the ornate carpets and the huge desk, Yubaba focused on her accounts, her old, wrinkled face bent over her work. She wasn't expecting to answer and so he gave none. Yubaba was in one of her "good" moods today, it seemed; instead of barking commands at the trio of heads currently bouncing and rolling around in the heat cast off by the blazing fireplace, she ignored them steadily.
The young boy watched as her withered hand scratched a character onto the paper before her, copying the same mark into a dog-eared book at her elbow. The bearded brothers were perfectly content to bask in front of the fireplace: Haku wondered how they could stand the heat. It was practically unbearable, beating painfully at his back. The heat seemed to grow more powerful by the minute. Forcing his face to be neutral, despite the growing discomfort, Haku remained where he was. Five minutes, an hour – it didn't matter.
Yubaba continued to concentrate on her paperwork, still ignoring the new apprentice she had summoned. Silence, except for the click of her rings, the grunts from the green heads behind him. A dry crackle from the fireplace. The scratch-scratch of the pen on the paper. It was far too hot in the office, Haku decided – he was starting to sweat involuntarily. How long had he been standing here? Ten, twenty minutes? A few hours? His home had never been this stifling, he was certain of that. Standing there, with ankles beginning to protest and a back that was threatening to go numb in the heat, Haku's mind began to wander, having nothing better to do.
His home. His and yet much more than that, much more complicated. It was a river – he remembered that much. There had been the cool, reassuring caresses, the gentle voiceless laughs Within, and always the bubbling sense of…of….of being. But, for some reason, all of that was gone. Empty. A void. All he had were the memories and he was beginning to wonder how long he would have even those. Yubaba had stolen his name before he had fully understood the repercussions. What if that had been all he had left? Would he lose his Within, would it disappear like his home?
Will I be empty?
Haku dearly hoped not. He was determined to find a way back to his home (or find wherever it had gone) and get his name back. Whatever it had been (now he could only recall that it started with a "K"), it was fading away. But it was still his. In fact, just standing here, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular, Haku was beginning to feel the first pangs of anger. Whose right was it to steal –
"What's your name?"
Haku involuntarily twitched as the grating voice jarred his train of thought to pieces. A pause. "…Haku."
"That's better," Yubaba set down the pen, her long red nails lacing themselves together, hands resting before her on the desk's cluttered surface. "I already told you yesterday what I would be expecting. I don't run a refugee house; in fact, it's not even in my best interests to take you as my apprentice."
Haku felt his heart start to sink. If not her, who?
"But I can be generous, so…I'll allow you to stay. So long as you pull your weight."
A surge of relief that he managed to prevent from spreading to his face. "I'll do what I can, ma'am."
The elderly witch's enormous eyes, half-lidded, turned on the watch resting, half-hidden under a pile of coins still to be counted, at the corner of her desk. Haku kept silent, easing his weight slowly from one foot to the other in an attempt to relieve the weight off them. Yubaba didn't appear to notice.
"I don't think I'll have you work with the rest of my staff," Yubaba finally said. "I'll find you something to do that's more worth my time."
Yubaba glowered caustically, mouth suddenly turning down in fierce disapproval. "Don't get hasty on me. You're already trying my patience as it is, Haku!" She snapped.
Haku remained expressionless, neither agreeing or disagreeing. A few long moments passed. Yubaba smoothed her gray bun, letting out an explosive breath, her face sour. Muttering venomously under her breath, the sorceress rounded the desk and stopped before Haku, sizing the young boy up. Reaching up, she wound her sharp nails into his page-boy hair, tugging on it sharply so that the frailer spirit almost lost his balance. A star-burst of bright, blinding pain. Haku, on the verge of transforming into a dragon and biting her over-sized head off (or at least trying), froze as he felt her dry breath fluttering against his ear.
"You signed the contract. You signed your services and yourself to me. You're mine."
Haku, still bent over painfully from her surprisingly strong grip, made no attempts to fight back. Any thoughts of rebellion abruptly faded away at her words.
"You're not stupid, I see. You read it," Yubaba hissed, twisting her fingers further in his dark hair. "You'll do as I say. It doesn't matter what I tell you to do, so long as it gets done. Do you understand, Haku?"
Haku, staring at Yubaba, was suddenly aware of the grandfather clock near the window ticking.
"If you don't, you break the contract and then you'll never get what you're looking for. You'll do as I say without question." It was a command, not an inquiry.
Haku, at length, gave the barest of nods. Yubaba released him, glancing over the blue shoulder of her dress as the youth straightened. He was once again regarding her with the same lack of expression, as if nothing amiss had occurred – but his olive eyes were still calculating. The same thing that had gotten the witch so riled in the first place. She didn't particularly feel it was necessary to abuse this new arrival any more than she already had, however. That look would be gone soon enough.
"Did you tour the premises?" Yubaba was all business now as she set her desk in order, not even looking at Haku.
"Fine. Get out of here – I'll summon you again when you're needed."
Dismissed, Haku gave a shallow bow and left the office. His head was throbbing from what he guessed was Yubaba's version of discipline.
Eh heh…end of the prologue. I'm already typing up the next chapter. Won't be really, er, action packed, but it'll hopefully go somewhere. I'm toying with the idea of doing "chapters" (like Catch 22), but I'm not sure. Might be too confusing. Anyway, hopefully I got the characterization right – I've seen some fics where Yubaba is portrayed as this complete villain, and I was hoping to avoid that. She struck me as a take-no-crap sort of person who has a rather harsh way of running things. E_e; But, dammit, she's not a soulless person! ^^;;;;
Er…as you can tell, Haku is my favorite character. xX; Besides Kamaji and the mouse. *cackles*
Anyway, any feedback is appreciated. If there're any questions, suggestions, additional comments or whatever, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or IM me at S Duo Maxwell 02. I'm planning to do some Spirited Away fanart – I'll mention it when I do better ones. My first Haku oekaki came out kind of weird. ^^;
- Famira Damaris